Jewish ethics focuses not just on what we do, but on who we are. Character traits are essential to living a moral and holy life. Join us as we explore such questions as: What kind of human beings are we asked to be? What is the relationship between right actions and right intentions? Why is law necessary, but not sufficient to Judaism’s vision of a religious life? Should we assess our leaders primarily by their accomplishments or their character?
9:00 Light Breakfast
9:30 Opening, Welcome with Ethan Tucker
10:00 Three Class Options
- Avi Strausberg — It’s What We Do (And Don’t Do) That Matters
In a famous and most egregious dinner party gone wrong, Bar Kamtza stands humiliated and the fall out is the Second Temple destroyed. In this session, we’ll explore how a delicate situation of hurt feelings is (mis)handled. Which guilty party is responsible for the destruction of the Second Temple? After examining this passage from the Talmud, we'll reflect on what it means to be a person of virtue in our daily interactions. When do we take action? When do we remain silent? And, what effect do our interpersonal interactions have on the rest of the world?
- Dena Weiss —Transparency and Transformation
According to the Hasidic master, the Ma’or vaShemesh, Moshe is the epitome of a great leader. This is not because Moshe always makes the right decisions, but because he admits his mistakes and shifts his leadership style accordingly. Moshe demonstrates that the role of the Tzaddik, the teacher and leader of a community is not to tell people to do teshuvah, but rather to inspire people to do teshuvah through the power of his own example. He asks us to reevaluate not only what it means to be a powerful leader but also what it takes to learn from one.
- Shai Held — Compassion and the Heart of Jewish Spirituality
11:30 Plenary - Shai Held — Because We Have to or Because We Want To? Thinking about Interpersonal Relationships
2:00-3:15 Three Class Options
- Ethan Tucker — Lying Rabbis: Between Policy and Integrity
We will explore a Talmudic passage that seems to endorse rabbinic dissembling and prevarication in order to achieve desired policy outcomes. As fascinating as the Talmudic passage is, so are the medieval responses to it. We will consider how the different models offered can help us reflect on leadership and responsibility more broadly.
- Aviva Richman — Reclaiming Boshet: From Shame to Humility to Revelation
In many rabbinic sources, the attribute of "boshet" - embarrassment - is considered core to building the character of a person in relationship with God. Yet, we are keenly aware of the dangers of self-deprecation and self-doubt. Through a close reading of a variety of texts (from Maimonides to the hassidic teachings of the Sfat Emet), we will trace the dynamic approaches to boshet that emerge from deep engagement with our rich tradition. What kind of boshet must we purge from ourselves as a serious impediment to growth, and what boshet must we embrace as nothing short of a glimpse of the Divine Presence?
- Jeremy Tabick — When We Don't Respect Our Leaders
Who in our communities really deserves our respect and how should we show it? How did our sages deal with the discrepancy between who should lead and who does lead? The Torah tells us that we have to stand before an elder, but gives no guidance as to who this category includes. Our rabbis in the Talmud Yerushalmi discuss this question with regard to a live issue of their times: what they saw as corrupt synagogue leadership.?>
3:30 Closing Session - Dena Weiss — Purity and Integrity: When It Is Very Bad to be a Little Good
4:45 Closing Remarks and Minhah